Last week we had the privilege of attending Polishing the Pulpit, a week that is always filled with new experiences, old friends, needed motivation, deep learning, and sweet encouragement. When you assemble with 4,700 Christians, it is almost impossible to leave without receiving an abundance of spiritual blessings.
This year, as I spent some time in the vendor hall, I ran into someone who told me that we attended camp together as teenagers. This may not seem unusual to most people—I’m sure for many people this happens every year—but for someone who grew up attending a small, all-girls session in the heart of the midwest, bumping into old camp friends is an anomaly. As we began talking I could not remember her, I could not place her face, and I could not recall any memories. After a few minutes of conversation though, she mentioned her sister, and it opened up memories I had not relived in a long time.
I had not thought about these sweet sisters in forever, and to be honest, even now I don’t remember many faces or facts from our time at camp. What I do remember, though, is the love and kindness they showed to everyone. I remember how they demonstrated their love for the Lord by paying attention to our teachers, and engaging in Bible class. I remember that they both spent talking with me about important issues, reaching out to me spiritually, and making a difference in my heart. My mind does not recall the details of our relationship, but my heart remembers the character of these girls.
This occasion has served as a deep reminder of the inevitability of legacy. Even when our memories fade, the impact people made on our lives (for good or for bad) stays in our hearts. During Sunday morning worship at Polishing the Pulpit, we were reminded of a great legacy, as the beautiful character qualities of Mary the sister of Lazarus were proclaimed to a group of 3500. More impressive than that though, her story is intertwined in the gospel in such a way that allows it to be proclaimed throughout the whole world.
“Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.” – Matthew 26:13
What I do probably never will be recalled to a group of 3500 Christians, and it certainly will never be proclaimed throughout the whole world. However, just as important, my legacy will be remembered and proclaimed in the hearts of those with whom I come in contact, living there with happiness or with hurt. Mary’s legacy is large and far-reaching. My legacy is too, though it is tucked away in the hearts of the people with whom I have interacted. Time can erase facts, but time does not erase the unseen impact we have on others.
If we expect to leave a positive legacy in the hearts of those around us, we must remember that our legacy affects them, affects our own souls, and is created by the daily choices that we make.
(1) Who we are affects the people around us. We cannot seriously consider whether our legacy is positive of negative until we realize that we do have an impact. Through us, the people with whom we interact will be influenced positively or negatively. Who we are becomes hidden away in the hearts of those around us, impacting their lives with godliness or sin. Through our legacy we can win hearts for the Lord (1 Peter 3:1), we can welcome people into the Lord’s church (James 2:1-12), we can correct people and bring them to salvation (Acts 18:24-28), and we can raise godly leaders (2 Timothy 1:5). Through our legacy we can also hurt though, causing others to stumble.
“[W]hoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” – Matthew 18:6
(2) Who we are also affects our own souls. The preferable punishment for one who causes someone else to stumble forces us to confront our own accountability for the way we treat other people. Though we may never reacquaint ourselves with the people who have our legacy in their hearts here on earth, they certainly will come back into our lives on judgement day. When Jesus depicts the judgement scene of Matthew 25, He reminds us that the way we have treated others around us is the way in which we have treated Him.
“‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'” – Matthew 25:33-40
(3) The daily choices that we make determine the legacy we leave. As I look through the pages of scripture, I am struck with the wide variety of legacies that are left for us to observe. Many of these people likely had no intention of leaving a permanent legacy in God’s word, but because of their daily choices, either for or against the Lord, they became examples worth considering. Consider the following positive and negative legacies:
- Benevolence (Dorcas, Acts 9:36-43)
- Leadership (Lydia, Acts 16:14-15, 40)
- Selflessness (James, Acts 12:2)
- Encouragement (Barnabas, Acts 4:36)
- Supportiveness (Priscilla, Acts 18:24-28 )
- Submission (Mary, Luke 1:38)
- Patience (Elizabeth, Luke 1:7)
- Growth (Peter, John 18:15-27)
- Service (Timothy, John 21:15-19)
- Humility (Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:9)
- Worldliness (Demas, 2 Timothy 4:10)
- Lying (Ananias and Sapphira, Acts 5:1-11)
- Maleficence (Alexander the coppersmith, 2 Timothy 4:14-15)
- Betrayal (Judas, Luke 22: 47-53)
- Jealousy (Jewish leaders, Matthew 27:18)
- Doubt (Thomas, John 20:24-29)
- Selfishness (Simon the Sorcerer, Acts 8:9-25)
- Weakness (John Mark, Acts 15:38)
If we expect our legacy to be positive, our daily choices must conform to those of the Lord. The distinctiveness of our influence should come from many godly character qualities, but also the purging of fleshly qualities. Many of the people who left negative influences for us in scripture had some godly qualities too, but because they didn’t keep sin out of their lives daily, their legacies are largely negative. Godliness and worldliness, or spirituality and fleshly desires, are in opposition to one another, and cannot successfully live within the same person.
“But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” – 1 Corinthians 2:14
“For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.” – Galatians 5:17
Our legacy affects those around us, affects our own souls, and is created by the daily choices that we make.
Our legacy lives in the hearts of those around us. Even when time erases our faces and facts from the minds of others, the imprint of our character and influence will not be forgotten so easily.
While the world provides plenty of people who do harm, may we work to provide encouragement. There are many who doubt, but let us be the ones who submit. Even the Lord’s church can become crowded with worldliness, but we can be those who stand out with selflessness and leadership. There are plenty of people who betray, but it is up to us to show the world support.
As Christians, may we always be the ones who leave a godly legacy, doing our part to place Jesus into the people around us.
“For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” – Galatians 6:8-10